Last week’s column briefly discussed some of the reasons for the large changes in agriculture over the last century. Drivers for change included two World Wars, the Great Depression, economic conditions after WWII, and the Federal Government. One reader pointed out that the column almost painted war as a good thing for agriculture. That wasn’t the intent. The fact is the driver for change and the development of new techniques and technologies is typically an event or events forcing and accelerating change. Now, how did events change farming over the last century.
• As a country, farming and rural living evolved from the place where the majority of people lived and worked to where relatively few people are directly involved in agriculture and most people live in urban areas, even in a state like Kansas. This change resulted in several things. Farmers went from providing most of the food for their families and immediate area to generating large surpluses in exchange for money allowing them to purchase most of what they consume on their operations. This provides the means for the country to support a largely urban population and for farmers to supply agricultural commodities for the nation and world. This resulted in less diversity and/or elimination of most livestock on a given farm and producers switching to purchasing most items. It made those living in rural areas dependent on urban areas for their livelihoods and those in urban areas almost totally dependent of a small percentage of the population for their food needs. And it generated a large food handling and processing industry.
• In order to produce food for many, producers had to rapidly adopt new technologies of every kind to replace slower, more labor intensive techniques. This resulted in the elimination for livestock for power and less diverse cropping systems. As cropping tended toward less diversity, along with the development of hybrid crops and the need for greater production, fertilizer use increased dramatically. The need and development for pesticides followed based upon the previously mentioned factors but particularly the need for ever increasing production to meet population growth.
• The result of the 1920s, the Great Depression, and Dust Bowl caused the number of farmers moving off the land to increase and lose their farmsteads. The result was the start of larger operations and the consolidation into fewer, larger farms. This along with the previous bullet points further accelerated the need for technology to allow farmers to farm more acreage with fewer people.
• As farmers increased production the need for inputs rose as did the need to sell commodities. This created the Co-Op system still in place today with major modifications. Farming tended to favor individualists and still today it is a great trait for success. However, farmers through organizations like Co-Ops and various producers groups have recognized the value of banding together to increase political and economic power.
Next week’s column wraps this up.